First published back in September of 1995 (in the US) and August of 1996 (in the UK), ‘Freak Like Me’ formed the official autobiography of US sideshow performing artist Jim Rose.  Although written by Rose himself, the book has also had a certain amount of editing by US author and journalist Melissa Rossi.

DLS Synopsis:
Growing up in Phoenix, Jim Rose didn’t exactly have the easiest of childhoods.  The problem came down to one particular thing.  He had been born cross-eyed.  An affliction that caused much merriment and subsequent mockery from his peers.  It was something that both his brother and one of his sisters suffered with.  Furthermore, from the age of three, he was forced to wear a pair of heavy glasses – fulfilling his nickname destiny of ‘Four-eyed Cross-eyed’.

After a failed attempt at corrective surgery, Jim Rose tried his best to simply get on with his young life.  But still he found he was always treated as the runt of the pack.  When playing ‘Cowboys & Indians’ Rose found that he was inevitably the one who played the part of the Indian who got tied up.  And after being left tied down with rope until he missed his dinner one night, Jim Rose decided that he would read-up on techniques for escaping from within an old magic book they had in the attic.  And from that, the very next day he escaped the ropes that his so-called friends had once again secured him with.  The reaction from his friends was incredible.  And from that day onwards he decided that he would do anything to shock and amaze.

From his father, Jim Rose learnt the art of spinning a tale, along with equally valuable skills involving sleight of hand tricks.  At the same time as this, Rose also learnt about the power of mud.  After all, no one messes with you when you’re caked from head to toe in the stuff.  Furthermore, you’re suddenly the centre of everyone’s attention.  Something that Rose now wanted to be at every opportunity.

From this point on, he revelled in his brand new out-going personality.  And after ordering a pair of x-ray glasses, only to then find out that they’re not x-ray after all, just a cheap illusion, Rose had stumbled upon another important discovery.  The power of illusion.  And more importantly - how you could make money out of it!  So that night Rose made up a whole load of his own x-ray glasses using feathers and two index cards with a hole in them.  And the next day he sold them for all 50 cents each.

By now young Jim Rose was beginning to find his stride with the world.  In the summer before sixth grade Rose wrote a play over a weekend which was then performed for schools all over Arizona.  On the strength of this, he became the voice of Arcadia High School, with his Daily Bulletins across the school’s loud speakers instantly became a hit with his fellow students.

All through this Rose’s fascination with shocking, stunning and entertaining the public had grown.  Rose had become the student-council representative, voice behind the intercom, actor, writer and entertainer.  But most of all to him – he’d become popular.

After dropping out of junior college, Rose became a car salesman, a telemarketer, an exterminator, and a car salesman again.  By now he had moved to Georgetown with his girlfriend.  However, their relationship soon went sour and Rose found himself miserable and alone.  And then he met Bebe – the future Circus Queen and love of his life.

As their relationship blossomed, Bebe told Rose about the street performers in Paris where she was from.  More than a little intrigued, Rose saves up enough money to go on a two-month trip to Europe where he learns the art of performing.

From these gradual beginnings in the way of performing, Jim Rose would eventually go on to perform at the Bumbershoot festival in Seattle and then form the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow in 1991.

A tour of Canada would secure Jim Rose a slot at the Lollapalooza festival, whereupon the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow suddenly became the new name on everyone’s lips.

A tour supporting Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson later, and the rest is simply a curious history…


DLS Review:
Jim Rose has a way with words.  His autobiography is written in the way that Rose presents himself.  An eccentric, lively, outgoing and ambitious performer.  Indeed, even the way in which the book is presented seems like a performance.  And as such, it’s possibly written in the most honest way that Rose can present himself.

Much of the book is dedicated to his childhood and early years of performing; before the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow made a name for itself at the Lollapalooza festival.  As such, there’s a well-established feeling of really understanding the person behind the shows.  Okay, so the book isn’t exactly awash with overly personal moments or aspects of intimate self-examination, but the reader nevertheless is able to form a reasonable idea of who Rose is and where his career in his sideshow developed from.

There’s a great deal of comedy in the book.  Much of this comes from the way in which Rose expresses himself.  As already mentioned, Rose is a performer, one whose life has been pretty much dedicated to entertaining.  And it’s really reflected in the story he tells.  Light-hearted analogies and whimsical stories of colourful misadventure take the real precedence over the first half of the book.  And it makes for an entertaining and oddly informative read.

The autobiography is very focused on Rose’s life in relation to his chosen career path.  Very little is actually written about Rose’s personal or intimate side.  That’s simply not the type of autobiography that Rose was striving for (and very probably not what he would have been comfortable with).  Instead, every chapter, every event in the book, all seems geared towards the eventual realisation of his very own sideshow and ultimately its unprecedented worldwide success.

Once Rose and his troop of performing artists had begun to make a name for themselves within the media and at festivals, the book picks up its pace, with the usual cacophony of near-celebrity mayhem and ‘on-the-road’ antics that you would have expected.  That said, Rose and his sideshow are far from the out-of-control rock ‘n’ roll rebels that some might have presumed – especially if you had already read Marilyn Manson’s own autobiography ‘The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell’ (1998), which has a crossover with Rose’s book at the Lollapalooza festival and later again with the NIN tour.  And after reading the two, it’s far easier to come to the conclusion that Manson’s book was perhaps the one that embellished upon the events somewhat, rather than Rose modestly understating the wild-side of what occurred backstage.

With the (somewhat joyful) mayhem of Rose’s newfound success detailed and Jim now in a place where he’s obviously very happy to be (for the time being at least), the book stars closing off via a very short (one page) ‘Question & Answer’ section where Rose answers a handful of questions fired at him.  Finally the book ends on a six page section entitled ‘Don’t Try This At Home!’ in which Rose loosely details the basic secrets behind how to do the following stunts:
  • Sword-Swallowing
  • Fire-Eating
  • Regurgitation
  • Pierced Weight- Lifting
  • Straightjacket Escape
  • Walking On Hot Coals
  • The Human Blockhead
  • Eating A Glass Light Bulb
  • The Human Pincushion
  • The Yoga Ribbon Stunt
All through the book Rose has included black & white photographs of himself and his fellow performers, some of which could be hinting towards graphic for those not overly-familiar with what is involved in these sort of shows.  However, despite the ‘Disclaimer’ warning potential readers of the graphic nature of the book, there really is very little in it that will get even the most squeamish of readers in a panic.

The book runs for a total of 224 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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